Archive for September, 2010

Rising……..Japan?

29/09/2010

Whenever the word rising is used it is nearly always followed by China. However, recent tensions with China where “the antagonism was over unoccupied islets in the East China Sea known as the Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkaku in Japanese. Japan has administered them since the early 1970s”. Not only that, as if things weren’t complicated enough, “the likelihood of oil and gas reserves in the surrounding seabed has raised the stakes of the dispute”.

Add to this the dention of a Chinese fishing vessel by the Japanese Coast Guard and there is a greater sense of unease in the area between the two countries, especially given their history, then there normally would be. 

As a result, Japan is taking action, or at least talking about it. The plans would enable Japan “to help deal with terrorism threats and natural disasters”, however the fact that the proposal to increase Japanese ground forces by to such a degree should be taken as a signal to China, given the current relations between the two countries. If the planned troop increase goes ahead, it “is likely to focus on southerly regions which are home to a string of disputed islands – including those at the heart of the current row – as well as underwater energy resources.”

Importantly, the “Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman also warned other countries not to become involved: ‘We resolutely oppose any country which has no connection to the South China Sea getting involved in the dispute, and we oppose the internationalisation, multilateralisation or expansion of the issue. It cannot solve the problem, but make it more complicated’.”

If the stakes were higher would China be as closed to meditation? Would it be in their interests?

Advertisements

Checks and balances?

28/09/2010

When “checks and balances” go too far, the common good suffers.

America’s future

26/09/2010

In an interesting article on the future of American foreign policy under President Obama, the usual remarks about his thinking Iraq was a “dumb” war get a mention. However, although a couterfactual, had Obama been in the Senate when the  Senate voted for the war in 2002 he would probably have been among the 76 other  senators that voted for the war. Not only that it would be naive to think that Obama wouldn’t support that war were things going better.

The article rightly points out that “Iraq, it is true, is no longer a dictatorship. Thanks in part to Mr Bush’s lonely refusal in 2007 to heed the calls to cut and run, the sectarian bloodletting that followed the invasion has abated”. The article says that “An America that is bleeding economically at home, with unemployment stuck at nearly 10% and debts as tall as the eye can see, is losing confidence in its ability, and perhaps in its need, to shape events in far-flung regions such as Central Asia and the Middle East”. While this maybe true today America will certainly be keeping a watchful eye on these regions, firstly to ensure its interests are safe, and secondly to promote the unchanging nature of US foreign policy as this year’s NSS proves.

Even taking these serious domestic problems into account and at the same time including the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan “in an age of austerity America still towers above all-comers in military power, as well it should given its annual defence spending of $700 billion, almost as much as the rest of the world put together”. So in this sense at least nothing has changed since 2002.

As the piece says “Mr Obama may well care more about nation-building at home than he does about exercising superpower abroad. But if so it is an instinct he has curbed”. Despite what some might say President Obama is still an American, and as such has an American view of the world, and is not shy about expressing such views. The piece notes how Obama “has made a point of changing America’s tone and body language” but the article correctly has no mention of America changing the substance of how it views the world and interacts with it.  

The article goes on to say that the president “does not subscribe to the neocon dream that America can intimidate every foe and expect the whole world to adopt its values. He has worked hard to enlist the help of international institutions and other countries” but, as has been noted above he still believes that force can produce results.

“For all the difficulties at home, the fact remains that the biggest gainer from a strong America abroad is America itself”.

News flash

26/09/2010

Oh no, a left wing party has a left wing leader! Whatever next!

We have learnt nothing, we never will

23/09/2010

Doomed to repeat the same mistakes, bowing before the power of “the market”.  Nothing will change unless we learn, we are unable to, due to human nature, the cycle continues.

November consistory

22/09/2010

The date for the creation of new cardinals seems to have been set. The names of those to be elevated will be announced on the 20 October, while the Synod on the Middle East is being held in Rome. The actual date of the ceremony being on the 20 November, just days after Janis Cardinal Pujats turns 80 and loses his voting rights. Earlier talk of a June 2011 date seems to have faded. The expected 19 slots for those under 80 will eventually go on to elect Pope Benedict’s successor. It is uncertain if Benedict will go above the 19 names and name electors to replace cardinals who lose their rights in the early part of 2011, such as  Bernard Cardinal Panafieu, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal or Camillo Cardinal Ruini. 

There are, as always, more candidates than available slots so some people are going to get left out. Among the names most likely to get the nod from the Curia are  Archbishops Angelo Amato, Fortunato Baldelli, Raymond Burke, Francesco Coccopalmerio, Velasio De Paolis, Antonio Veglio, Francesco Monterisi and Paolo Sardis another albeit long shot, Piero Marini. Of the residental archbishops names that have been mentioned are Donald Wuerl, Thomas Collins, at least one Polish archbishop, Jozef Kowalczyk the primate of Poland or Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw along with Reinhard Marx,  Odon Marie Razanakolona, John Dew and Giuseppe Betori, Paolo Romeo, Allen Vigneron, Braulio Rodríguez Plaza, Peter Takeo Okada of Toyko, João Bráz de Aviz and Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo.  

As usual most of the cardinals come from Europe and North America so Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya and Jean Pierre Kutwa have also been mentioned, the former being more expected than that latter to be chosen. What all of these residential archbishops have in common is that their dioceses have no elector at all. So it will be interesting to see if Benedict breaks custom (not law) and names André-Joseph Leonard, Orani João Tempesta, Tim Dolan and/or Vincent Nichols. Not only that, things are complicated further by Benedict having recently named a new archbishop of Quito, Fausto Gabriel Trávez Trávez. The previous archbishop was never elevated for unknown reasons.

Finally word is that Franc Cardinal Rode, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life is due to retire with Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello SDB of Concepcion, Chile most  expected to be appointed to replace Cardinal Rode. It is not known if Archbishop Ezzati Andrello will be named in time for the consistory or indeed if he is, if he will be included.

Benedict likes regular small consistories so that the college can get to know itself better in time for a conclave. With that in mind the next consistory should be sometime around the the end of 2012.

Western “morality”

21/09/2010

In a group of surveys carried out over the last number of days in Ireland, it would seem that the excesses of the French Revolution are alive and well and at the same time Pope Benedict still has much work to do in challenging the rabid individualism that pervades all Western capitalist nations. As with most things in capitalist societies, if there is a large enough market for it, then it will be provided, irrespective of the consequences to the common good of society.

In one of the questions asked there is a large number of people that support gay marriage. As has been stated here the before, the state must provide gay couples with civil partnerships, and if some religious communities such as the Religious Society of Friends, wish to have a religious cermonony around this, all the better. The poll found that “67 per cent of people believe gay couples should be allowed to marry, while 60 per cent do not believe that civil partnerships will undermine the institution of marriage”. Marriage is between a man and a women with the hope that they will have children. Gay marriage is an oxymoron but gay couples must have the ability to create wills and have visitation rights as well as tax status within civil law. What is suprising is that so many people think having civil partnerships will affect marriage. It is not on the same basis as has been stated above and therefore poses no threat to marriage. The article quotes some who said that people are “aware that the current exclusion of lesbian and gay couples from civil marriage is deeply unfair and doesn’t make any sense in today’s Ireland”. This is incorrect as gay couples are not the same as hetrosexual couples and should not be treated the same in law. However, what is less suprising is the attempt to paint modernity/rationality as the best, indeed, the only way forward. Such thoughts on thier own can be very dangerous and lead to further down the path that the West is going.  

On a more general point, the survey reveals that in Ireland “The legal age of consent for sex is of course 17, and the great majority of Irish people clearly feel this is, if anything, too young an age at which to make such a decision”. The danger is that permissiveness begets permissiveness due to our inability to correct others behaviour for fear of being seen as “judgemental”. Others see such attempts to even begin a dialogue on people’s behaviour as an attack on the primacy of the rational individual. Two concepts that do not always go hand in hand.

Thankfully however, “90 per cent of people reject outright the notion that they might think less of a person if he/she revealed to them that they were gay or lesbian”.  

Closing out the series is the usual inaccurate and dangerous dichotomy about past attitudes being consigned to history with people now stepping into the light of modernity and progress that is is meant to inevitably bring. The author notes how, “what was once the most powerful institution in the land, the Catholic Church, the poll results must be deeply disturbing. If the Catholic Church were a political party running for election, and if these survey results were the actual vote, then this could be described as a rout”. Maybe it needs to be stated that the Catholic Church is oddly enough, not a political party and has no interest in pandering to the masses (no pun intended) to save a few seats at the next election.

The inevitable liberal sneering thus follows, “In fact, we don’t find the church’s position on anything to do with sexuality or women credible. The sexual revolution, the development of effective contraception, the growth of the women’s and gay rights movements – all these historical shifts have left the church stranded with an archaic psychology of sexuality”. While some of the these developments are indeed beneficial, to say that the Church is “stranded” for supporting committing life long, loving relationships is patently false.

The author goes on to say, “how have we fared morally without the church’s moral guidance? Remarkably well it seems”, for now perhaps, for now.

Who said geopolitics is dead?

19/09/2010

There was talk after the end of the Cold War that geopolitics was dead and that international relations would be governed by economics. This was best ecapuslated by Bill Clinton’s 1992 election slogan, “Its’s the economy stupid”. This was not only meant to refer to the domestic agenda but also to the international scene.

In an article in The Economist, the notion that states’ actions in international relations would be ruled by trade and “the market” is justifiably blown away. The article has much of the usual pleasantries about the rise of China but also, perhaps more importantly a focus on India.

The article discusses the already, well in place, tensions between India and China. However it notes that the two nations’ “two-way trade is roaring: only $270m in 1990, it is expected to exceed $60 billion this year. They are also tentatively co-operating, for their mutual enrichment, in other ways: for example, by co-ordinating their bids for the African oil supplies that both rely on”. Despite this, it is important to bear in mind that as many wars have been stopped due to trade as has been started by it. The authors coldly point out the hard realities that “If you then consider that they are, despite their mutual good wishes, old enemies, bad neighbours and nuclear powers, and have two of the world’s biggest armies—with almost 4m troops between them—this [tension] may seem troubling.” Just one of these areas is that of increasingly scarce minerals such as oil, gas and notably water.

Add to these tensions is the fact that “In the undefined northern part of the frontier India claims an area the size of Switzerland, occupied by China, for its region of Ladakh. In the eastern part, China claims an Indian-occupied area three times bigger, including most of Arunachal. This 890km stretch of frontier was settled in 1914 by the governments of Britain and Tibet, which was then in effect independent”, in Chinese eyes this agreement “represents a dire humiliation”.

As well as the above territory with its accompanying feelings of resentment, even anger, there is great confusion due to the fact that the boundary that was agreed in 1914 was “drawn with a fat nib, establishing a ten-kilometre margin for error, and it has never been demarcated. With more confusion in the central sector, bordering India’s northern state of Uttarakhand, there are in all a dozen stretches of frontier where neither side knows where even the disputed border should be”.

To think that these two nations have not come close to fighting due to their trade links is absurd. The article points out that 1986 saw “200,000 Indian troops rushed to northern Tawang district—there has been no confirmed exchange of fire between Indian and Chinese troops since 1967”. To think that there is not a possibility that this could not happen again would be dangerously naive in the extreme. Only Baroness Ashton would be able to convince herself that such violence could not happen. Chinese authorities once seemed to be willing to come to an agreement on the disuputed areas, however, “China appears to have reasserted its demand for most of India’s far north-eastern state. Annoying the Indians further, it started issuing special visas to Indians from Arunachal and Kashmir—after having denied a visa to an Indian official from Arunachal on the basis that he was, in fact, Chinese”.

The article points to the positive fact that “Officials on both sides were especially pleased by their show of unity at the United Nations climate meeting in Copenhagen last December, where China and India, the world’s biggest and fourth-biggest emitters of carbon gas, faced down American-led demands for them to undertake tougher anti-warming measures”. However, to expect anything less would be simple minded as both nations were acting in their interests, safeguarding not only their economic but also military power.

In a scene worringly reminiscent of Wilhelmine or even Weimar Germany, the “Chinese fear of encirclement by America and its allies, a fear heightened by a recent burst of American activity in Asia. The United States has sought to strengthen security ties with South-East Asian countries, including Vietnam and Indonesia. It has also called on China, in an unusually public fashion, to be more accommodating over contested areas of the South China Sea”.  

Anyone who thinks that trade will solve the problems of the world is sorely mistaken. We are still living in an anarchic world.

Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks in Westminster Hall

18/09/2010

It was is the most important political speech of his ongoing visit to the UK, Pope Benedict yesterday gave a talk that defined the very essence of what he thinks. Thanks again to Rocco, as speech text via Whispers:

Mr Speaker,
Thank you for your words of welcome on behalf of this distinguished gathering. As I address you, I am conscious of the privilege afforded me to speak to the British people and their representatives in Westminster Hall, a building of unique significance in the civil and political history of the people of these islands. Allow me also to express my esteem for the Parliament which has existed on this site for centuries and which has had such a profound influence on the development of participative government among the nations, especially in the Commonwealth and the English-speaking world at large. Your common law tradition serves as the basis of legal systems in many parts of the world, and your particular vision of the respective rights and duties of the state and the individual, and of the separation of powers, remains an inspiration to many across the globe.

As I speak to you in this historic setting, I think of the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides. In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose “good servant” he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.

This country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation’s political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good.

And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as “every economic decision has a moral consequence” (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore. A positive illustration of this is found in one of the British Parliament’s particularly notable achievements – the abolition of the slave trade. The campaign that led to this landmark legislation was built upon firm ethical principles, rooted in the natural law, and it has made a contribution to civilization of which this nation may be justly proud.

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.

Your readiness to do so is already implied in the unprecedented invitation extended to me today. And it finds expression in the fields of concern in which your Government has been engaged with the Holy See. In the area of peace, there have been exchanges regarding the elaboration of an international arms trade treaty; regarding human rights, the Holy See and the United Kingdom have welcomed the spread of democracy, especially in the last sixty-five years; in the field of development, there has been collaboration on debt relief, fair trade and financing for development, particularly through the International Finance Facility, the International Immunization Bond, and the Advanced Market Commitment. The Holy See also looks forward to exploring with the United Kingdom new ways to promote environmental responsibility, to the benefit of all.

I also note that the present Government has committed the United Kingdom to devoting 0.7% of national income to development aid by 2013. In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare. Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed “too big to fail”. Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly “too big to fail”.

This overview of recent cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Holy See illustrates well how much progress has been made, in the years that have passed since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations, in promoting throughout the world the many core values that we share. I hope and pray that this relationship will continue to bear fruit, and that it will be mirrored in a growing acceptance of the need for dialogue and respect at every level of society between the world of reason and the world of faith. I am convinced that, within this country too, there are many areas in which the Church and the public authorities can work together for the good of citizens, in harmony with Britain’s long-standing tradition. For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed. The angels looking down on us from the magnificent ceiling of this ancient Hall remind us of the long tradition from which British Parliamentary democracy has evolved. They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation.

Mr Speaker, I thank you once again for this opportunity briefly to address this distinguished audience. Let me assure you and the Lord Speaker of my continued good wishes and prayers for you and for the fruitful work of both Houses of this ancient Parliament. Thank you and God bless you all!

Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks in Scotland

16/09/2010

Worth quoting in full, via Rocco, are the opening remarks of Pope Benedict in Scotland:

Your Majesty,

Thank you for your gracious invitation to make an official visit to the United Kingdom and for your warm words of greeting on behalf of the British people. In thanking Your Majesty, allow me to extend my own greetings to all the people of the United Kingdom and to hold out a hand of friendship to each one.

It is a great pleasure for me to start my journey by saluting the members of the Royal Family, thanking in particular His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh for his kind welcome to me at Edinburgh Airport. I express my gratitude to Your Majesty’s present and previous Governments and to all those who worked with them to make this occasion possible, including Lord Patten and former Secretary of State Murphy. I would also like to acknowledge with deep appreciation the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See, which has contributed greatly to strengthening the friendly relations existing between the Holy See and the United Kingdom.

As I begin my visit to the United Kingdom in Scotland’s historic capital city, I greet in a special way First Minister Salmond and the representatives of the Scottish Parliament. Just like the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, may the Scottish Parliament grow to be an expression of the fine traditions and distinct culture of the Scots and strive to serve their best interests in a spirit of solidarity and concern for the common good.

The name of Holyroodhouse, Your Majesty’s official residence in Scotland, recalls the “Holy Cross” and points to the deep Christian roots that are still present in every layer of British life. The monarchs of England and Scotland have been Christians from very early times and include outstanding saints like Edward the Confessor and Margaret of Scotland. As you know, many of them consciously exercised their sovereign duty in the light of the Gospel, and in this way shaped the nation for good at the deepest level. As a result, the Christian message has been an integral part of the language, thought and culture of the peoples of these islands for more than a thousand years. Your forefathers’ respect for truth and justice, for mercy and charity come to you from a faith that remains a mighty force for good in your kingdom, to the great benefit of Christians and non-Christians alike.

We find many examples of this force for good throughout Britain’s long history. Even in comparatively recent times, due to figures like William Wilberforce and David Livingstone, Britain intervened directly to stop the international slave trade. Inspired by faith, women like Florence Nightingale served the poor and the sick and set new standards in healthcare that were subsequently copied everywhere. John Henry Newman, whose beatification I will celebrate shortly, was one of many British Christians of his age whose goodness, eloquence and action were a credit to their countrymen and women. These, and many people like them, were inspired by a deep faith born and nurtured in these islands.

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).

Sixty-five years ago, Britain played an essential role in forging the post-war international consensus which favoured the establishment of the United Nations and ushered in a hitherto unknown period of peace and prosperity in Europe. In more recent years, the international community has followed closely events in Northern Ireland which have led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the devolution of powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Your Majesty’s Government and the Government of Ireland, together with the political, religious and civil leaders of Northern Ireland, have helped give birth to a peaceful resolution of the conflict there. I encourage everyone involved to continue to walk courageously together on the path marked out for them towards a just and lasting peace.

Looking abroad, the United Kingdom remains a key figure politically and economically on the international stage. Your Government and people are the shapers of ideas that still have an impact far beyond the British Isles. This places upon them a particular duty to act wisely for the common good. Similarly, because their opinions reach such a wide audience, the British media have a graver responsibility than most and a greater opportunity to promote the peace of nations, the integral development of peoples and the spread of authentic human rights. May all Britons continue to live by the values of honesty, respect and fair-mindedness that have won them the esteem and admiration of many.

Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.

Pope Benedict’s mission in the UK

15/09/2010

On this, the eve of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK, as usual, controversy is never far behind. In a thoughtful piece, Dr Eamon Duffy, lays out the importance of Benedict in the UK.

Duffy says that “John Paul II was manifestly a giant on the world stage, his life story one of titanic struggle against 20th century Europe’s two great tyrannies, he himself a key player in the collapse of the Soviet empire. His social and moral views elicited no more enthusiasm from the secular world than those of Joseph Ratzinger, but his craggy integrity, mesmeric personal presence and mastery of crowds made him formidable even to those who rejected his religion. By contrast, Pope Benedict is an altogether smaller figure, a man of the sacristy and the lecture room.”

Thus it is fairly obvious that Benedict is “an academic to the toes of his red papal slippers, he has poor antennae for the likely public perception of his actions and utterances. That was made clear by the hostile reaction to his Regensburg remarks on Islam, and, more recently, by his disastrous though doubtless well-intentioned conciliatory gestures to the holocaust-denying Lefebvrist rebel Bishop Richard Williamson.”

This is perhaps one of the biggest problems facing Benedict personally as well as sadly, this. Benedict’s whole papacy, indeed much of his life, has been to fight against both relativism and the aggressive secularism that like the soon to be Blessed “[John Henry Cardinal] Newman believed that British society was in danger of cutting itself adrift from the Christian values that had given Europe and the West their distinctive religious, moral and aesthetic character. But he [Newman] also believed the slide into relativism would not be halted by mere denunciation. If Christian values were to survive and prevail, they must commend themselves by their intrinsic power and attractiveness. Modern materialism, he wrote, must be met ‘not by refutation so much as by a powerful counter-argument . . . overcoming error not by refutation so much as by an antagonist truth’.”

Benedict like Newman will try to bring Europe back to Christianity, for its own good, as much for the Church’s. As has been mentioned before, Benedict sees Europe as the heart that will beat again should religion be at least respected and ackkowledged by society. However, it is doubtful that groups like this will be going out of business any time soon.   

If Benedict is successful in the long term than all the PR disasters, media sniping, and abuse crisies that have never been far behind will, be if not forgotten, there impact will be lessened and the significance of Benedict’s message will be understood. Tolerence itself is at stake and it is hoped that these short term gaffes and ignorant and dangerous comments will not dull or impede Benedict’s historic mission.

America’s interests

14/09/2010

The best reason for America to stay in Iraq.

Morality of an immoral foreign policy

12/09/2010

In an article, UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague said that “It is not in our character as a nation to stand by while others are in need, or to be unmoved when they are denied the hard-won freedoms and protections that we enjoy in Britain as a result of centuries of striving for individual rights within a democratic society”.

Hague takes these principals and from that says, dangerously “We cannot have a foreign policy without a conscience. Foreign policy is domestic policy written large”. Here, Mr Hague is  a politician doing what politicians do, best telling us what we want to hear, and then doing the opposite. He knows that conscience is a dangerous thing in foreign affairs, however in this realm, he has a reason for acting the way he does. Such goals for an ethical foreign policy are laudable, but despite attempts to define a moral foreign policy, for most nations it is an oxymoron.

Foreign policy is not domestic politics. There is no world government, or in Hobbesian terms, sovereign, to protect any nation that is attacked by others. If there was, whatever world authority there was would be able to stop for example, the invasion of Iraq. However France and every other nation knew that it is in their interests, to only disagree with America. While anyone who pretends the UN will spring into action to protect them should think again with history littered with events like this.

As has been said before, the world is too  dangerous for most nations to pretend to their citizens that it is safe. To say, and act, otherwise would put in danger the very citizens that the government is morally bound to protect.

Mr Hague proudly proclaims that “by announcing an inquiry into whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, and publishing the guidance given to intelligence services personnel in the interviewing of detainees held by other countries”. Aside from any, admittedly substaintial, political gain that will be given to the Conservatives, they are bringing politics where politics should never be, national security.

There is however, one exception, for now, to this rule. That is predictably, America.  It is alone in its economic and most importantly, military power that it can act the way no other nation dares to, because of its both hard and soft power. It is this combination that allows America to all but escape whatever consequences would befall other smaller nations should they act, as what most realists would only describe, as recklessly as it does.

For those who are not American, to act morally in the realm of foreign affairs would be utterly immoral.

Living in an alternate universe

10/09/2010

These protesters aren’t living in the real world and flies in the face of all evidence and the common good. The authorities must not be bullied by such mobs.

What to do with Iran

08/09/2010

Former British Prime Minster, Tony Blair, in a recent interview over the publication of his memoirs, stated that the only option for the world and regional peace was to attack Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In a piece written recently this view has been countered. The authors say that hawks favour attacking Iran, this is a small point yet calling those who disagree with you by such a pejorative  term does little to enhance the quality of the debate on either side.

The authors take the point that America should attack Iran before Israel does thus having some control over the attack and its consequences. The piece makes the point that due to the overwhelming US military power “the United States could mount a far more robust air campaign against Iranian nuclear targets than Israel could”. The writers make the point that those who support the war “starts with the Holocaust — and a view of the Islamic Republic as a latter-day Third Reich, under ideologically obsessed, anti-Semitic leadership”. This was a similar view that was propounded by those who favoured war in Iraq and is central to those who favour war as to portray Iran as a rational actor, as realists do, would be the death knell for their argument. Whether any nation is wholly rational or irrational is another matter. They add that equating Iran with Nazi Germany is inaccurate as “Roughly 25,000-30,000 Jews continue living in Iran, with civil status equal to other Iranians and a constitutionally guaranteed parliamentary seat”, yet a 2009 report by the State Department notes that “the Jewish community experienced official discrimination. The Government continued to sanction anti-Semitic propaganda involving official statements, media outlets, publications, and books. The Government’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, along with a perception among radical Muslims that all Jewish citizens of the country support Zionism and the state of Israel, continued to create a hostile atmosphere for Jews”.

They note that “In fact, the Islamic Republic and Israel have not forever been enemies. During the Iran-Iraq war, Israel — over Washington’s objections — sold weapons to Iran”.

Going back to basic balance of power logic, “Israel has deemed Iran its principal rival for regional hegemony — and the Islamic Republic views what it sees as Israel’s hegemonic ambitions as threatening its vital interests”. In some senses in might make sense for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons as it could bring a balance back to the region that the authors note, has been missing since the fall of the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein. Adding to this they note that “In May, retired Israeli military officers, diplomats, and intelligence officials conducted a war game that assumed Iran had acquired ‘nuclear weapons capability.’ Participants subsequently told Reuters that such capability does not pose an ‘existential threat’ to Israel — but ‘would blunt Israel’s military autonomy'”.

They conclude by saying that President Obama should do with Iran what Richard Nixon did with China eg turn it into an ally. This naturally is easier said than done.  

However, they do mention that should Iran acquire nuclear weapons that they would not be foolish enough to use them, which in turn links back to the question of how rational are states, and their regimes.

There is another issue that they do not deal with, what would happen in the future if the US tacitly allows Iran to gain nuclear capability. What would the consequences for America be in the future and how would other nations who wish to become nuclear powers see the US in thier search for the bomb.

Regretably, the answers to these questions I cannot possibly answer. I just hope someone can. I wonder who’s next.

EU slides further into irrelevance

02/09/2010

The EU and its “foreign policy” will talk itself into irrelevance with this nonsense. Countries like America and China did not get where they are today by worrying about gender balance in their diplomatic corps.

Labour’s troubles, society’s troubles

01/09/2010

In the Labour Party’s leadership contest, among the five current candidates, Ed Miliband, and his brother David, have publicly clashed over what direction the party should take.

Ed Miliband who served as secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the previous government it would seem wishes to take the party back to its working class roots, while his brother, David, former secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs wishes to strengthen the New Labour image by appealing to more affluent voters, as Tony Blair did in the 1997 general election.

All of this came out into the open in spectular fashion when “Lord Mandelson, one of the key figures behind New Labour, warned that electing Ed Miliband would lose Labour the election and described the younger brother as a ‘preacher'”. At the same time the article reports that “Lord Kinnock attacked Lord Mandelson in a letter to a newspaper. He wrote: ‘Peter Mandelson is sadly out of date. ‘If you shut the door on the New Labour,’ he says ‘you’re effectively slamming the door in the faces of millions of voters who voted for our party because we were New Labour’. But the indisputable fact is that, in 2005 and in May 2010, millions ‘slammed the door’ on New Labour.'”

Today, Tony Blair said that Labour could have won a fourth term in office had Gordon Brown stuck to the New Labour vision.

However, on a broader point, the disagreement between the Miliband brothers has importance beyond the Labour party. If David Miliband wins the leadership later this month, then he will take the party down a centrist route that will turn off voters who will brand Labour middle of the road and therefore uninspiring, leading to, as has been said before, bored voters who see little point in voting at all when they fail to see a difference of views between the parties. Of course, if David wins he will have to pay, at the very least, lip service to the party faithful. 

If his brother Ed wins and takes the party down a more traditional route then there is an argument for the common good being served as it will give voters a real alternative to the current UK government that seeks a massive decentralisation of power, perhaps too a dangerous degree. This would give voters at the next election, which might be sooner than many think, a clear choice which will mean a higher turnout and greater legitimacy for whoever wins.